Argentina's in it to win it and nobody can stop them

Brazil v Argentina: Final - Copa America Brazil 2021
Brazil v Argentina: Final - Copa America Brazil 2021

Argentina are undeniable favorites for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. After getting eliminated in the Round of 16 of the 2018 version, La Albiceleste have come a long way and seem ready to compete amongst the world's best in the upcoming showpiece event in Qatar.

But how will all that be possible?

Argentina went all the way to the World Cup finals in 2014
Argentina went all the way to the World Cup finals in 2014

A narrow loss in the 2014 World Cup final against Germany showed that the future was bright for Germany, with stars such as Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria and of course, Lionel Messi seeming to be the centerpieces of a new generation of Argentinean dominance. But a few weeks later, the coach who guided them to the final, Alejandro Sabella, resigned from his post. Gerardo Martino replaced him. It was at this moment that the wheels slowly but indeed began to fall off.

Two consecutive Copa America finals defeats in 2015 and 2016, both to Chile on penalties, saw a disheartened Messi briefly retire from the sport. Did they have it in them to etch their names in footballing history books?

2018 FIFA World Cup

A disappointing 2018 World Cup
A disappointing 2018 World Cup

After a draw against Iceland and a loss to Croatia, Marcos Rojo's 86th minute winner ensured that Argentina would qualify from their group in a must-win game against Nigeria. However, they bowed out of the tournament in the very next round, with a loss to eventual champions France in a thrilling 4-3 game. After the World Cup, Jorge Sampaoli left his post as manager and was replaced by Lionel Scaloni on an interim basis.

The writing was on the wall. Lionel Messi, who many regard as the greatest human to ever kick a football, seemed destined to have an undignified retirement from the international game. Scaloni only seemed to be a placeholder at the time. A coveted international trophy for Messi seemed as far away as ever, with the 2022 World Cup seemingly out of reach. The squad was being rebuilt at the time to get back to being the global force that they were.

New Beginnings and a trophy

Their form saw the Albiceleste win the 2021 Copa America
Their form saw the Albiceleste win the 2021 Copa America

Initial signs were discouraging, as Scaloni didn't deny Messi's Argentinian career being over after he opted out of friendlies in September 2018 against Guatemala and Colombia. The results did arrive as Scaloni guided La Albiceleste to a third-place finish in the 2019 Copa America. A 2-0 loss to Brazil which knocked them out of the competition would also be their last loss to this date.

It was hoped that the momentum would carry into the 2020 Copa America, which was to be held in Argentina and Colombia. Shortly after, it was announced that the tournament would be postponed for a year, owing to the COVID-19 outbreak. The tournament shifted to Brazil.

The postponement allowed the squad to familiarize themselves with each other more, as they played six more games, winning and drawing three. Heading into the Copa America, expectations around the squad were optimistic. It seemed like the best chance the team had to win a trophy since 1993. They were the second-best team after their neighbors and regional powerhouses Brazil.

A berth in the final was the expectation heading into the competition. Emiliano Martinez had a productive season with new club Aston Villa, Messi was at his usual best for Barcelona. Lautaro Martinez ensured that Messi would not be burdened by the task of carrying the attack forward. Rodrigo De Paul gave the squad a balance in midfield, while Christian Romero was a rock at the back.

A dominant group stage performance saw them top their group. They would then beat Ecuador 3-0 in the quarter-finals and Colombia in the semi-finals on penalties, confirming their final berth against eternal rivals Brazil. Like Argentina, Brazil too were having an excellent 2021 Copa America.

The stage was set and the opportunity was golden. It was the first and only game to have fans inside the stadium. A defensive error by Renan Lodi saw Di Maria put La Albiceleste ahead. A nervy finish for Argentina saw that to be the only goal in the game. Not only did Messi and the Argentinian squad win their first international trophy, but theyr also did it in style, beating their arch rivals Brazil at their own home.

The Unbeaten Streak

Argentina has overseen a smart rebuild
Argentina has overseen a smart rebuild

Argentina carried their Copa America winning form into 2022, where they stand on a 35-game unbeaten streak, the joint-second longest streak in the history of international football. They also won the Finalissima against Italy, a one-off game where the winners of the Euros and Copa America square off in a winner-takes-all game.

However, it wasn't sheer luck that produced a Copa America triumph and a 35-game unbeaten streak. This was the product of a smart rebuild overseen by Scaloni and Co. The manager brought about changes to the squad by removing aging players and bringing in young blood like Christian Romero and Rodrigo De Paul and a swashbuckling new goalkeeper in Emiliano Martinez.

Furthermore, with the emergence of players such as Angel Correa and Lautaro Martinez, the burden placed on Messi to single-handedly win games for Argentina has severely lessened. This lack of burden has allowed Messi to play a freer game, which has benefited him immensely. He bagged the Copa America's 'Best Player' award and Argentina became a powerhouse in football again.

Argentina have gone on a 35-game unbeaten run, the third longest in the history of international football and are three games away from beating Italy's all-time record of 37 games. They now head into the 2022 World Cup, being the pick of many to go all the way.

How can Argentina reach the promised land?

Can Argentina win it all?
Can Argentina win it all?

This World Cup has a "Last Dance" feel to it, as Messi announced that this will be his last World Cup. However, Argentina are arguably under much more pressure than the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team and Michael Jordan, as this is Messi's last shot at the World Cup.

While Lionel Messi is undoubtedly Argentina's best player, Lautaro Martinez is the X-Factor of the squad. Despite having yet another terrific season for Inter, Martinez has flown under the radar. He somehow manages to elevate levels with the national squad, where he averages a goal in less than two games.

A possible winning combination can be seen below:

How Argentina should line up
How Argentina should line up

The biggest miss in the XI is Paulo Dybala, who is in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup. Julian Alvarez could be sure to start their final fixture against Saudi Arabia if they are assured of a first-place spot heading into the final matchday.

Before Argentina can even dream of a third World Cup, they must first get out of their group. A group consisting Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia should not prove to be too tricky for them, and they win their group.

Up next is a tie with the runner-up of Group D, which would most likely be Denmark. While the Danes are in splendid form themselves, the sheer quality of this Argentinean side should see them out.

They would then most probably face the Netherlands, who would be expected to beat the United States or Wales. Despite the Dutch boasting a splendid defense and midfield, their lack of World Cup experience would come to haunt them, and Argentina would move on to the semi-final.

The final would be a repeat of the 2021 Copa America against arch rivals Brazil. In all honesty, it can go either way as Brazil boast of a star-studded squad themselves capable of beating any team on their day. But we are backing La Albiceleste to beat them and take glory.

So, there you have it. Messi finally wins the coveted World Cup trophy, and more importantly, La Albiceleste will have a third star on their jersey. The intertwined destinies of a footballing legend and a footballing heritage team will finally meet their fate.

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Edited by Shardul Sant
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